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Close Encounters of the God Kind

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Close Encounters Of The God Kind


        The following is a true incident reported by Steve Whittle.  It was not reported until August 23, 1997, but it occurred on November 22, 1974, in Knoxville, Tennessee at 3:00 a.m. in the morning.

Mr. Whittle said, “I have always worked the night shift and I stay up all night long.  I walked to my back door and looked out at the snow on the ground and saw a shadow going across the ground.  Now normally I would not pay any attention to this, but this shadow was huge.  I walked outside and all I had on was a pair of shorts, because the house was hot.  I walked in the snow to the house next door, where my neighbor lived and he was also up.  I told him to come outside and look at what I was looking at.  He walked outside and said, “What in the h--- is that?”  I told him that I didn’t know.  We watched as it moved out of sight then we got in my car and followed it up the road for about 3 or 4 miles.  Then it shot up at a great rate of speed.

I don’t tell people about this too often and when I told family members about this they said I was crazy.

My cousin also saw the same thing.  He was out delivering newspapers that same morning.”

        Whether you believe stories like these or not, they are becoming far too common place to simply ignore.  Stories about Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO’s) and related phenomena are ubiquitous; i.e. they are everywhere.

·        What are these UFO’s?

·        Are they from outer space or inner space?

·        Are they government prototypes of experimental aircraft, extraterrestrial spacecraft, people’s imagination, or some type of demon manifestation?

Although these are very interesting questions, they are not what I want to talk about.  What I want to talk about is the impact of these alleged encounters and experiences upon the people who report them!

        There is no doubt that for the majority of people, who report encountering a UFO, it is a life-changing experience.  They have encountered and experienced something that they know is real and that will change their lives forever.  No amount of psychoanalysis, hypnotism, debriefing, counseling, etc., seems to be effective in convincing them that what they experienced was not real.

        As a matter of fact these encounters had become so prevalent, even back in 1977, that an excellent movie was made about the phenomenon.  This movie was one of the most spectacular UFO science fiction films of all times.  It was entitled:  “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  It was directed by famous film director Stephen Spielberg, and was his first film after “Jaws,” which was released in 1975.

In a memorable scene, a Muncie, Indiana blue-collar lineman, named Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, was sent to investigate a power blackout.  On his way he had a life-transforming experience in his truck, at a railroad crossing. While he was sitting there, he had an encounter with a UFO, which bathed his truck in brilliant light.

Soon after this, Roy meets others, including young single mother Jillian Guiler, played by Melinda Dillon and her son Barry, played by Cary Guffey, who have had a similar experience.

After he returned home, he became obsessed with the recurring image of the shape of a huge mountain (that he first sculpts in the shape of mashed potatoes) and five musical notes.

Meanwhile, in a spectacular special effects sequence at their home, Jillian and Barry experience their electrical appliances and toys out of control as aliens converge, and a UFO abducts the young boy.

The film concludes with the climactic sequence at Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  The monument is a huge extinct volcano, which, in the movie, is a secret landing site for UFO’s.  Jillian and Roy are mysteriously drawn there together.

There the first meeting with the alien visitors and scientists occurs, with breathtaking special effects and a sense of awe and wonder, as the immense alien mother ship appears.  It is a circular object with hundreds of illuminated windows.  The ship releases Barry and others who had been taken aboard.  After dozens of small aliens come off the ship, one other small alien debarks, and gives a message of love and goodwill to investigating scientists, via sign language.  The aliens then, out of many candidates, choose only Roy to accompany them back into space.

        Whether you believe in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” or not, we must admit that these kinds of encounters have tremendous, life-changing impact on the people who profess them.  These people are changed forever and believe that they have had encounters and experiences with extraterrestrials, i.e. alien life forms from other planets, star systems, or galaxies.

I would like to suggest that we all need a close encounter with the supreme extraterrestrial:  Jehovah God!  The word “extraterrestrial” means existing, taking place, or coming from outside the limits of this earth.  Jehovah God exists and proceeds forth from outside the limits of this earth.  Jehovah God is omnipotent, i.e. all-powerful; omnipresent, i.e. present everywhere at the same time; and omniscient, i.e. all-knowing.  In every respect He transcends the limits of this earth and, as such, He is the supreme extraterrestrial!  We need a “Close Encounter Of The God Kind.”  It seems that even as aliens initiate close encounters of the third kind, so God initiates close encounters of the God kind.  Don’t let that discourage you from seeking a close encounter with God.  UFO enthusiasts can’t make UFO encounters happen, but they can situate themselves in areas of high UFO activity.  Even so, we can’t make an encounter with God happen, but we can put ourselves in situations where God is likely to show up.

Now many of us may wonder whether people who report encounters with UFO’s really believe what they are reporting.  And of course, there are some people in this group who are just mentally unstable.  But, on the contrary, there are many seemingly stable people who believe, with strong conviction, that something very real has happened to them—and I am inclined to agree with them.  I may disagree with their interpretation of the event, but not that something very real has happened to them.  And whatever it is that has happened to them, it has changed their lives forever!

Likewise, when we have had a “Close Encounter Of The God Kind,” the experience will be so real that it will be life-changing.  It will change our lives forever, and nobody will be able to convince us that what we experienced was not real.

Too many people, who say that they know God, have never had a close encounter with God, or are unaware of the fact that they have had an encounter with God.  Yes, they may have trusted Jesus as their personal Savior, they may have faithfully served Jesus, they may have read and studied the Bible, looked up words, become convinced of doctrines, done their doctoral thesis on God, etc., but they have not had a life-changing encounter with God.

The question is, “Why haven’t many believers had a ‘Close Encounter Of The God Kind?’  Why don’t believers seem to be aware of having ‘Close Encounters Of The God Kind?’”

        One answer may be that they don’t know how to place themselves in situations where God is likely to show up?  I believe that is certainly a major problem, but there is another problem that I want to work on.  Perhaps we don’t really know what constitutes a close encounter with God?  If this is true, then some of us may have had a close encounter with God and don’t know it or may have had a close encounter with God that we short-circuited, because we didn’t know how to respond to that encounter.

If we are going to discuss “Close Encounters Of The God Kind,” we need to define what constitutes this kind of encounter.

(Well, to define a close encounter with God, let’s first define a close encounter with UFO’s.)

“A Close Encounter Of The Third Kind” is a face-to-face encounter with an unidentified flying object or other unidentified phenomenon that cannot be totally explained.  This encounter is an experience that changes the participant’s life, in some way, forever!

        I would like to use this definition as a basis for defining a close encounter with God.

“A Close Encounter Of The God Kind” is a face-to-face encounter with God that cannot be totally explained.  This encounter is an experience that changes the participant’s life, in some way, forever!

(Let’s explore this more deeply.)

        Let me state, early in this series, that I doubt that there are aliens.  It seems that something that important would have been included in the Word of God.  And there doesn’t seem to be any biblical information about extraterrestrials.  I believe that these UFO phenomena are some type of satanic manifestations.

Nevertheless, I do believe that something real is happening to these people, and for the sake of this series let’s assume that there are aliens.

When aliens abduct a person, we really don’t know what the aliens want with that person.  We have no earthly idea why aliens have chosen to encounter human beings.

On the other hand, when God encounters a human being we have a pretty good idea what God is trying to accomplish through the encounter.  After reading through the Bible more than twenty times, spending a great deal of time studying the Bible, and growing in Christ over 38 years of Christian experience, I believe I have a good idea of what God wants in encountering human beings.  In keeping with His own sovereignty and grace, God encounters people to give them a God-sized assignment towards establishing and extending His kingdom.  These encounters are intended to facilitate genuine worship and change these people forever.

        Those who profess to have had an encounter with a UFO are changed forever, because they experienced the encounter with their whole person, i.e. body, soul, and spirit.  They don’t just intellectually confront the data of the encounter.  Why?  It is because the encounter is not totally explainable.  Something happens so out of the ordinary, that it cannot be totally explained.  The encounter is not a study, but an experience!

Likewise, when we have an encounter with God, we are changed forever, because the encounter is not a study, but an experience with God.  We experience that encounter with our bodies, souls, and spirits—not just our intellects.  This kind of experience is not totally explainable.

Think of some of the face-to-face encounters with God in the Bible.

·        When God encountered Job, Job experienced that encounter with more than his intellect.

·        When God encountered Isaiah, Isaiah experienced that encounter with more than his intellect.

·        When God encountered Paul, on the Damascus Road, Paul experienced that encounter with more than his intellect.

        I would like to suggest that all through the Bible, and down to this present time, God wants to meet us in face-to-face encounters and experiences that will facilitate worship.  He does this in many ways, throughout the Bible, but I believe three of His primary ways today is through preaching, praying, and singing.  We will touch on the areas of singing and praying, but spend most of our time talking about preaching.

(Let me be even more specific.)

        God, through the Spirit-filled preaching of His man, seeks to facilitate a face-to-face encounter with His people that is not totally explainable, but which when fully experienced by people, will bring about a genuine response of worship, which will change them forever.

(We do not have time to deal with all of this, so let’s deal with the portion of this statement that encompasses the encounter, experience, and the worship response.)

        If you have not figured it out by now, one of the main things I want to talk about is worship.  Worship can be defined as a genuine response to an encounter with God!  Before we can explore, define, and defend this definition, we need to do some preliminary work on the meaning of worship.

        “‘Worship’ comes from the old English word ‘weorthscipe’ and means ‘to ascribe worth unto.’  The essential idea is that whatever it is that you value most highly or place the greatest worth upon you worship.”[1]  The question is not if you will worship, but what you will worship.  Whatever you value most highly you worship.  So, to worship God is to ascribe or attribute to God the worth that He is due.  Consequently, we often name God’s divine perfections, attributes, possessions, etc., and say that He is worthy!

        There are two other words that are closely related to the word “worship,” which should be considered at this time.  One of those words is the word “praise.”  “Praise” is the extravagant verbal commendation of God’s glory, i.e. His weighty importance, His divine honor, and His shining majesty, either because of His person or the things that He has done.

The other word is “thanksgiving.”  “Thanksgiving” is the giving of thanks, in various ways, for the things that God has done.

        I believe that worship is starting to be misunderstood, because of what I am seeing on TV.  I’m tremendously bothered by what I sometimes see on TBN.  I think there is a great deal of good that is done by the network, but on the other hand, preachers seem to get up and copy one another.  Something that I am starting to hear repeatedly is the phrase, “Worship is intimate...Worship is personal...Praise is public.”  The implication is that praise is corporate, but worship is strictly personal.

Well, that is not even close to biblical.  Worship in the Bible moves back and forth between personal experience and corporate experience.  In Psalm 34:3, we find one of the more well known and beloved exhortations to corporate worship.  David, the hymn writer for God’s people wrote this exhortation to corporate praise and worship, when he feigned madness before Abimelech.  He said

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.”

The magnification and exaltation of God are certainly worship in my understanding.

In addition, personal worship and corporate worship are mutually interactive.  Corporate worship is empowered by personal experience, but personal experience needs affirmation and interpretation in corporate worship.  Corporate worship is the combination of individual worshippers, who have a personal life of worship.  But personal worship needs to be affirmed by other people, and personal worship needs the interpretation of others in corporate worship.

        I want to focus our attention upon the fact that God is orchestrating a worship movement, not only in the United States, but also around the world.  In our country that which has been seen as sectarian, i.e. characteristic of a particular sect or small group that has broken away from a church, has become universal.

For instance, the raising of one’s hands in worship, although it is thoroughly biblical, was seen, in the past, as characteristic of a certain sect of people, namely the Pentecostals and Charismatics.  Now people from all religious denominations and traditions are raising their hands in praise and worship to God.  This is indicative of the worship movement that is being orchestrated by God.

The present worship movement began to manifest itself in The House of the Lord about two to three years ago.  This does not mean that no worship was going on before then, but that the current movement began to manifest itself about that time.  God is doing something miraculous at The House of the Lord, and yet I believe that God wants to facilitate “A Close Encounter Of The God Kind” in our services.

(All right, now we can pick up where we left off.)

Worship can be defined as a genuine response to an encounter with God!  It may be interesting for you to note, that the word “encounter” means to meet with or face.  The worship response, which could be anything from extending the hand, raising the hands, clapping the hands, falling down before God, singing, giving, etc., is a response to meeting God face-to-face.  When God encounters us, He encounters all that we are bodies, souls, and spirits, with all that He is Presence, Personality, and Spirit—Presence, Personality, and Spirit encountering body, soul, and spirit.

(All right, let’s take this to the next spiritual step.)

        An encounter with God involves an experience.  Just as an encounter with a UFO involves the whole person in an experience, so an encounter with God involves the whole person in an experience.  An encounter with God involves the body, soul, and spirit of a person in an experience.

        In this series, I don’t want to take anything for granted, so let’s define the word experience.  The word “experience” means the act of living through an event or events, personal involvement in or observation of events as they occur.  Therefore we should enter into any encounter with God with our bodies, our strength, our thoughts, our emotions, our passions, our wills, our spirits, etc.

        Let’s use preaching as an example.  We have already studied that in preaching God manifests Himself through the flesh of the preacher.  God intends to come to earth, as the Logos, the Word of God, in the flesh again.  Therefore, we want to have a face-to-face encounter with God through the preaching of the Word of God.  We want to experience God with all that we are.  We did not come to merely think about God, or feel God, or make decisions with respect to what we hear, or just jump and shout, or to just drink deeply of God’s spirit in our spirits.  We came to encounter and experience God with all that we are.  We came to think about God, sense and feel His presence, make decisions about what we are hearing, bodily demonstrate our worship and praise, worship Him with all of the passion of our innermost beings, and connect our hearts with His heart!

        We must learn the difference between thinking about something and experiencing it.  I am convinced that many in Evangelical Conservative Christianity and many in this church believe that thinking about something is experiencing it.  I want to give you a quote, which will begin to clarify this.  The quote is taken from an outstanding book that I read at the end of last year (1997).  The book is about the role of celebration in African-American preaching.  It is entitled:  They Like To Never Quit Praisin’ God.

“Convinced of the power of experience and emotional process over intellectual knowledge and cognitive assent, I began to reflect upon the difference between thinking about something and experiencing it.  What is traditionally known as ‘thinking’ usually involves a significant emotional and physical distance from a thing; one objectifies what one is thinking about, separates oneself and one’s body from it, and dissects it for clarification and analysis.  But when one experiences something, the body, emotions, and thinking are significantly involved.  The body registers and confirms the reception of powerful stimuli and responds appropriately, for example, by sweating, feeling short of breath, or blinking away tears.  The response is often automatic, below the level of conscious instruction and choice.”[2]

Therefore, God wants to facilitate an encounter that involves an experience.  When we fully enter into the experience of an encounter with God, we will have a genuine response of worship—a response that is automatic, below the level of conscious instruction and choice.  When we come face-to-face with God and allow ourselves to fully experience that encounter, we will:

·        Bow down before God in holy reverence;

·        Cover our eyes for fear of His holiness;

·        Extend our hands in worship;

·        Raise our hands in worship;

·        Clap our hands in appreciation of His person;

·        Give verbal worship, praise, and thanksgiving;

·        Sing unto God;

·        Witness to the first person we can find;

·        Give an offering;

·        Etc., etc., etc.

We won’t have to ask what we should do or how we are to worship God, nor will we be out of control, because we have given in to emotionalism.  But, we will enter into the experience with all that we are and respond appropriately.

(Let’s touch on the last element of this definition.)

When the genuine response of worship springs forth, it will change that person forever!!!

“A Close Encounter of the God Kind” is a face-to-face encounter with God that cannot be totally explained, but which—when fully experienced—will bring about a genuine response of worship, which will change people forever!

In the weeks to come, we are going to continue to explore and define “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.”

·        We are going to talk about what a genuine response of worship looks like.

·        We are going to talk about what kind of eternal changes are brought about by worship.

·        We are also going to talk about barriers to these close encounters and the worship they should facilitate.  And,

·        We are going to explore twelve “Close Encounters Of The God Kind,” to see what we can learn.

We shall explore:

·        Abraham’s first encounter with God, that led to a practice of altar building for the rest of his life.

·        Abraham’s encounter with God, where God revealed Himself as Jehovah-Jireh, which aided in making him the Father of Faith.

·        Jacob’s encounter with God in a dream, which caused Him to build an altar to God.

·        Moses encounter with God at the burning bush, which caused him to over his eyes.

·        The Israelites encounter with God at the Red Sea, which brought about dancing.

·        The Samaritans woman’s encounter with Jesus at a well, which brought about witnessing.

·        Peter’s encounter with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, which brought about stupidity.

·        The two Mary’s encounter with Jesus, after the resurrection, which brought about adoration.

·        The Israelites encounter with God at the Jordan River, which brought about a memorial of worship.

·        The church’s encounter with Jesus in Acts 2, which brought about spiritual language and preaching.

·        Paul’s encounter with Jesus through a bright light, which led him into ministry.

·        Paul and Silas’ encounter with Jesus through signing in Jail, which brought about an earthquake and evangelism.

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, Now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Jack Hayford, Explaining Worship, Sovereign World, Tonbridge, Kent, England, 1996, p. 6.

[2] Frank A. Thomas, They Like To Never Quit Praisin’ God, United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio, p. 36.

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